Fat Talk and Weddings and Contagion Effects
This guest post graciously submitted by Carolyn Becker
Recent media coverage of a controversial diet (note – I am not going to add to the dissemination of this diet, let’s just say I am not a fan), highlighted the pressure many brides-to-be feel to lose weight and have their “best body possible.” After watching a segment on Good Morning America, the following incidents from my own past came to mind:
Being with friends and picking out bridesmaid dresses many years ago. We were having fun. The bride-to-be had informed us that if we didn’t find a dress everyone could live with in one day – then she would pick out the ugliest dress possible. This led to much merriment as we chose the ugliest dress first (that was super fun!) and then set about the real task at hand. I should note that our lack of seriousness did not meet the approval of the woman at the dress store, which we also found amusing. We subsequently found ourselves in the dressing room, where we were exposed to such an onslaught of fat talk – we actually had to stop trying on dresses to make sense of what we heard. Sure, we had heard fat talk for much of our lives. But brides and bridesmaids were literally in tears in some cases stating that they were horrified with their bodies and that it was so unfair to have to try on dresses when they were so fat!! The volume of fat talk was overwhelming and provided a tremendous contrast to the fun we had been experiencing. How had such a happy occasion become something so traumatic??
Learning that the soon-to-be wife of a friend had starved herself down 4 dress sizes for her special day. According to her husband, fat talk was a staple in their lives during the lead up to the wedding, with relatives and friends contributing. When the day came, she was too afraid to eat out of concern for not fitting into her dress. Needless to say, a combination of hunger and a few glasses of champagne made her wedding day something less than perfect. All she could think about towards the end of the reception was leaving as early as possible so she could get comfortable, eat, and stop feeling nauseous.
On a more happy note, I also recall former students at the university where I work tell me about the fat talk free weddings they had attended. Apparently, the wedding parties had a critical mass of students who had been through the Reflections: Body Image Program® and they joined together to form a pact to make these weddings body image positive and free of fat talk. These young women talked how fun it was to put aside talks of diets and simply celebrate their time together. They looked for dresses that complimented their bodies, versus trying to fit their bodies to the clothing. On the day of the wedding, they ate appropriately, had the energy to have a good time, and focused on the joy of the event and their time together.
Obviously, weddings are not the only time we hear fat talk – but they provide a window into this phenomenon and a target for change. They also highlight the role each of us can play, given that it is easy to forget how quickly a simple fat talk statement you make can affect others around you. For instance, a recently published study by Salk and Engeln-Maddox (2012) found that participants who heard someone engage in fat talk experienced increased body dissatisfaction and guilt. Take home message here – when you engage in fat talk, you contribute to body dissatisfaction in other women. Hearing fat talk also increased the likelihood that participants engaged in fat talk and this further elevated body dissatisfaction. Take home message – when you engage in fat talk, you encourage other women to do the same and body dissatisfaction goes up even more. Lastly – when participants heard a confederate challenge fat talk by explicitly criticizing use of fat talk by women – body dissatisfaction did not differ significantly from a control condition in which there was no fat talk. Last take home message – when you challenge the use of fat talk (versus simply ignoring it) you not only engage in behavior that is likely to help you, you reduce the damaging effects of fat talk for those around you.
We all know body image problems are a major concern in our culture. But there are things we can each do on a daily basis to make our lives and the lives around us less body image toxic. A wedding is a good place to start (albeit a challenging one), but we can also make every day one that will facilitate a positive relationship with our bodies just by appropriately and assertively challenging fat talk. As my good friends at Tri Delta like to say – it’s time to change the conversation….
Photo courtesy of Bellemedia